The illusion of consistency

by Chris Bertram on January 5, 2013

The New York Times has an interesting piece on the variability of people’s personalities, tastes and opinions over time and how we tend to underestimate the amount we will change in the future:

when asked to predict what their personalities and tastes would be like in 10 years, people of all ages consistently played down the potential changes ahead. Thus, the typical 20-year-old woman’s predictions for her next decade were not nearly as radical as the typical 30-year-old woman’s recollection of how much she had changed in her 20s. This sort of discrepancy persisted among respondents all the way into their 60s. And the discrepancy did not seem to be because of faulty memories, because the personality changes recalled by people jibed quite well with independent research charting how personality traits shift with age. People seemed to be much better at recalling their former selves than at imagining how much they would change in the future.

This wouldn’t have come as any surprise to Montaigne, whose whole project was predicated on the idea of constant change in the self:

I am unable to stabilize my subject: it staggers confusedly along with a natural drunkenness. I grasp it as it is now, at this moment when I am lingering over it. I am not portraying being but becoming: not the passage from one age to another … but from day to day, from minute to minute. I must adapt this account of myself to the passing hour. (“On repenting”, Screech trans 908-9)

But how much this contradicts the central presupposition of much intellectual biography, which is to find as much consistency as possible among the attitudes and doctrines adopted by a person throughout their life.

The state of macroeconomics: it all went wrong in 1958

by John Quiggin on January 5, 2013

Much of the recent discussion in the “state of macroeconomics” has concerned the question

* Is macroeconomics making progress?
* If not, when did it stop?

I’m not going to survey the whole debate, but I will point to a good contribution from Robert Gordon (linked by JW Mason in comments to a previous post). Gordon argues that 1978-era New Keynesian macro is better than the DSGE approach dominant today. That implies 30 years of retrogression.

My own view is even more pessimistic. On balance, I think macroeconomics has gone backwards since the discovery of the Phillips curve in 1958 [1][2]. The subsequent 50+ years has been a history of mistakes, overcorrection and partial countercorrections. To be sure, quite a lot has been learned, but as far as policy is concerned, even more has been forgotten. The result is that lots of economists are now making claims that would have been considered absurd, even by pre-Keynesian economists like Irving Fisher.

[click to continue…]